For many individuals in recovery, relapse is a necessary part of the process. In fact, according to DrugAbuse.gov, around half of all substance abusers relapse at least once after deciding to stop using drugs and alcohol.
Many consider relapse to be a learning experience and not necessarily indicative of a failed recovery. If one fails to stay sober, one can become better able to recognize environmental triggers and what circumstances they need to avoid the next time around. Although relapse is often unintentional and spontaneous, there are definite warning signs that may predict that a return to substance abuse is approaching.
Experts believe that substance abuse relapse consists of three distinct stages – mental, emotional, and physical.
During the emotional stage, the individual is not actively thinking about using drugs and alcohol. However, their behavior and actions may put them in a prime position to travel down that road. Emotional relapse may be characterized by anger, anxiety, defensiveness, social withdrawal, moodiness, failure to attend arranged meetings, poor nutrition, unhealthy sleeping habits, and a general lack of self-care.
It is believed that this relapse stage is often a precursor to post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), a phase during which a person in recovery experiences psychoemotional withdrawal symptoms rather than merely physical ones. Moreover, physical withdrawals only persist for a couple of weeks, whereas PAWS can last up to two years after an individual in recovery stops using substances.
During this stage, the person’s brain vacillates between using and not using drugs or alcohol. Part of the person wants to use, while the other part desires to continue their recovery.
Mental relapse signs often include reminiscing about persons and places associated with a past life, glamorizing prior use, being deceptive, hanging out with individuals who still use, thinking about relapsing, and even mentally preparing for one.
Often, the individual in recovery is the only one who can recognize the symptoms of mental relapse as they occur, as internal struggles are more challenging for others to identify.
Methods to Avoid Mental Relapse
When a mental relapse begins, there are a few ways in which the person in recovery can regain control of their addictive thoughts and feelings and make the decision to prevent relapse.
1. Call a trusted individual, such as a sponsor, friend, or family member.
Communicating the presence of cravings and urges to another person can help one analyze the reasons for their desire to use and why they should not. Unburdening oneself from one’s thoughts and feelings can make them seem less daunting and promote rationality and close inspection on the reasons they exist. Talking to a sponsor or loved one about urges can help clarify why using substances will not solve any problems and only produce more.
2. Wait for half an hour.
Before hastily acting on a craving, one should wait 30 minutes and reevaluate their urges and the logic behind them. Cravings typically don’t last longer than this, and sometimes the passage of time can help reduce the temptation to use.
3. Consider what might be likely to happen after drinking or using drugs just once.
It is unlikely that this problem would stop there, and a recovering addict who takes this step will ultimately find themselves at the same rock-bottom status as before. Consider how actions lead to adverse consequences that can decrease the desire to use.
4. Don’t think about forever—think about today, or even minute-by-minute if necessary.
Thinking about abstinence as an indefinite process is usually too intimidating for anyone and will likely result in feeling overwhelmed and incite the desire to use. Instead of thinking about forever, one should concentrate on making it through each day without using it. Then, focus on this again the next day, the day after that, etc. The days will eventually begin to add up significantly.
Unfortunately, the techniques described in stage two will not be effective for every person, and some individuals resort to acting on their desire to use. When recovering addicts enter this stage of relapse, some will continue to use the drug of choice for weeks or months. Still, the others recognize the gravity of the situation and once again concentrate on recovery.
What to Do in the Event of Relapse
After relapse, there are certain steps one can take to get back on the right track.
1. Spend meaningful time with appropriate individuals who do not use and support your sobriety.
2. Let yourself experience your thoughts and emotions and identify where they originate.
3. Don’t isolate yourself or entertain the idea that you are alone and uncurable.
4. Seek additional treatment either on an inpatient or outpatient basis from a rehab center or addiction specialist.
Get Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
If you have relapsed during recovery, it’s not too late to try again. Just Believe Recovery center offers programs comprised of evidence-based therapeutic services delivered by caring addiction professionals. These services include cognitive-behavioral therapy, group support, aftercare planning, and more.
We provide those we treat with the coping skills, education, and support they need to attain abstinence, prevent relapse, and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness.